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Products for grant HB-232154-16

Epic after Evolution: Modernism's National Narratives
Vaclav Paris, City College of New York

Grant details:

Beginning Again with Modernist Epic (Article)
Title: Beginning Again with Modernist Epic
Author: Vaclav Paris
Abstract: n his 1978 book, On Human Nature, Edward O. Wilson famously claimed that “the evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have.”[2] His idea, which has since given rise to a field of sociobiology called “Epic of Evolution,” is that human beings have a primal need for explanations of their existence and cosmic order, a need better served by evolutionary science than religion or literature. Although many critics have objected to Wilson’s position, pointing out its misreadings of Darwinism, its male bias, its ethnocentrism, and its naturalization of an implicitly heteronormative reproductive sexuality, his claim retains its power, almost forty years later, as a description of how deeply the evolutionary imaginary has assumed the role of a cultural foundation narrative in late (western) modernity.[3] The once literary terms “epic” and “myth” have been colonized—at least in secular consciousness—by the more scientific “evolution.”
Year: 2016
Primary URL:
Access Model: Open Access
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Modernism/ Modernity
Publisher: JHU

Spotlight on the Humanities and Arts (Web Resource)
Title: Spotlight on the Humanities and Arts
Author: Vaclav Paris
Abstract: An interview about my NEH award.
Year: 2016
Primary URL:

The Evolutions of Modernist Epic (Book)
Title: The Evolutions of Modernist Epic
Author: Václav Paris
Abstract: Modernist epic is more interesting and more diverse than we have supposed. As a radical form of national fiction it appeared in many parts of the world in the early twentieth century. Reading a selection of works from the United States, England, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, and Brazil, The Evolutions of Modernist Epic develops a comparative theory of this genre and its global development. That development was, it argues, bound up with new ideas about biological evolution. During the first decades of the twentieth century—a period known, in the history of evolutionary science, as 'the eclipse of Darwinism'—evolution's significance was questioned, rethought, and ultimately confined to the Neo-Darwinist discourse with which we are familiar today. Epic fiction participated in, and was shaped by, this shift. Drawing on queer forms of sexuality to cultivate anti-heroic and non-progressive modes of telling national stories, the genre contested reductive and reactionary forms of social Darwinism. The book describes how, in doing so, the genre asks us to revisit our assumptions about ethnolinguistics and organic nationalism. It also models how the history of evolutionary thought can provide a new basis for comparing diverse modernisms and their peculiar nativisms.
Year: 2021
Primary URL:
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780198868217
Copy sent to NEH?: No

The Nature of Comparison: Macunaima and Orlando (Article)
Title: The Nature of Comparison: Macunaima and Orlando
Author: Václav Paris
Abstract: Dominant modes for comparing modernist literatures do so by coordinating individual texts against a larger narrative of modernity conceived as economic or political globalization. This article proposes an alternative premise for comparison. Instead of focusing on development, it considers the ways in which different national modernisms registered a changing modernity in terms of nature and natural history. This switch is demanded by two texts that bear a number of thematic and conceptual similarities and were published months apart in 1928: Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma and Virginia Woolf ’s Orlando. Both works rethink Darwinism’s import for national representation by adapting the genre of the national romance or prose epic. They come to offer a sense of nations as living or organic in queer and unexpected ways. Tracing this process in relation also to the context of rising fascism, the article sheds light on modernist views of nature and their heuristic value as a basis for comparison.
Year: 2020
Primary URL:
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Comparative Literature Studies
Publisher: Penn State University Press